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How to brew your own beer

©iStockphoto.com/ValentynVolkov Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/ValentynVolkov

Cooking School

How to brew your own beer

We Canadians love our beer! According to the most current report from Statistics Canada (2009), we spend $4.4 million annually on beer. Some folks are die-hard beer drinkers, as loyal to one brand as a puppy dog, enjoying it all year 'round, while some think of beer as a refreshing summer drink.

Well, summer will soon be shining down upon us. So why not try your hand at doing it yourself and brew your own beer this season?

Beer making isn't as daunting as it might seem. Home brewing can be a lot of fun and it makes the house smell really good. No, really!

Brew your own beer: Getting started 

If you're ready to brew your own beer, there are a few different ways to approach the process, especially if it's your first time. You can buy a beer-brewing kit that comes with step-by-step instructions and all the ingredients you'll need. Some come with the bottles as well but with other kits, you may have to invest in the equipment separately. Check out makebeerathome.ca to find a kit with everything you'll need to get started.

You can sign up for instruction at a shop that helps you brew your own beer. At many of these shops, the staff will help you and the shop provides all the equipment and ingredients. Or you can go all in: Buy the raw ingredients -- malted barley, hops, yeast -- and follow a recipe. It all comes down to your sense of adventure and your reasons for trying home brewing.

Here are a few brew your own beer shops to get you started:
• West Coast U Brew in Vancouver
• Fermentations in Toronto
• La Cachette du Bootlegger in Montreal
• John's Home Brew in PEI

3 things to know before you brew your own beer:


1. Home-brewed beer doesn't contain preservatives and is unpasteurized; therefore it will not keep indefinitely. It has a best before date, so don't brew more than you can drink in a couple of months -- tops.

Also, it can take up to eight weeks before the beer has fermented and is ready to enjoy, so keep this in mind particularly if you want to enjoy your home brew during the short-lived summer months.

2. Making a batch of beer at a brew-your-own place is a sociable experience and it can be comforting if you're a tad nervous about your first time. But brewing with an experienced brew-buddy at home can prove to be just as helpful.

3.
Don't expect to save a ton of money by home brewing. That's really not the reason most folks do it. It's a hobby, like baking or gardening or making jam. Your many hours working over a steaming pot will be rewarded with a fine sense of accomplishment and a cellar full of beer -- up to 19 liters (five gallons) per average batch.

Page 1 of 2 -- Find great advice from an experienced home beer brewer on page 2
Advice from an experienced home brewer 

Grant Millard, owner at PLANT48, a Toronto-based package design studio, and home brew-master of 20 years, says that he home brews more often in preparation for the warmer months but the main difference, he says, is what he brews.

"People tend to like lighter beers -- pale ales, wheat beers and lagers -- during the summer. I can brew a batch of pale ale and have it ready to share in two to three weeks," he says. "However, lager takes longer. To do lager right, it needs to age for six to eight weeks in the fridge. Planning ahead is key!" So if you love lager -- and most North Americans do -- it's time to get going.

How quickly should you drink up your home brew?
According to Millard, "most commercial beers are thoroughly filtered and pasteurized, which greatly improves the beer's shelf life. But that processing can also have adverse effects on the flavour of the beer." That's why handcrafted beer tends to taste so much better, he says.

"If a home brewer is meticulously clean, their beer should last nearly as long as a commercial product," he says. "It won't be at its peak, but home-brew can be enjoyed for up to three to four months."

We suggest you keep your home brew in the fridge. And if you're going to get into home brewing seriously, investing in a second fridge dedicated to beer is a very good idea. Millard swears by his.

"It's made such a difference in my brewing and now my kitchen fridge has food in it again! My beer fridge is used for making and storing finished beer as well as storing ingredients like hops and yeast cultures," he says.

Still debating if home brewing is for you? 

If you're still debating about brewing your own beer, whether trying it at home or seeking professional help at a brew-your-own place, Millard has some sobering thoughts about the time and effort it takes.

"I brew in the all-grain method which takes a little longer but makes a world of difference in the flavour," he says. "This is basically the same method craft brewers use, though some home brewers use malt extracts, which save a bit of time. Including preparation time and clean up, it typically takes about four hours to brew. Bottling is a very time consuming process: collecting, storing, washing, priming and filling all those bottles."

And it can get messy. "You have to add just the right amount of sugar when you prime or you get either flat beer or the exploding bottles you see in the movies," he says.

All cautions aside, Millard insists that brewing your own beer is fun and satisfying. "The first time you turn a pot of sweet malty water (wort) into actual beer is pure magic! If you enjoy beer, you should really try making it a least once in your life," he says. "You'll develop a completely new appreciation for it." So what are you waiting for? We think it's time to kick back with a tasty home brew!

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